It’s funny how fast the narrative can change in sports. Just three weeks ago people started to doubt the New England Patriots and then in one half they dismantled the Chiefs on their way back yet another Super Bowl. The Rams were left for dead after a loss to a rejuvenated Eagles team and yet they made their first Super Bowl in seventeen years.
For running back Todd Gurley this year really came at him fast. He came into training camp the toast of the league. He was the reigning Offensive Player of the Year and he signed a massive 4-year $60 million ($45 million guaranteed) contract. Todd Gurley’s contract was both a sign that running backs weren’t expendable and some in the media juxtaposed the Rams taking care of him with what was happening with Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers.
The season started and his 12 touchdowns during the first half of the season led to MVP chatter and the possibility he could break LaDainian Tomlinson‘s single-season touchdown record. Then Gurley got hurt and his performance fell off. When his performance fell off the Rams’ offense fell off. All of a sudden the Rams looked out of synch because both Gurley and Malcolm Brown were out of the lineup and now they couldn’t run play action. Then Los Angeles struck gold by getting running back C.J. Anderson off the couch and into the lineup. Suddenly the Rams offense had a new gear as Anderson was able to pound the ball and spell Gurley long enough for him to be effective.
The NFC Championship was Todd Gurley’s nadir. He had thirteen yards and a late touchdown. No one knew why he sat out for most of the game. Gurley and coach Sean McVay claimed it wasn’t due to health but for performance reasons. True, Gurley was awful in that game and in the opening drive dropped a pass that ended up being picked by the Saints. He didn’t look right, which was odd after a two-touchdown and 115-yard performance a week prior against Dallas. Now people were questioning Gurley’s status as a star player. They began second guessing giving a running back a massive deal when Anderson could come in for (possibly literal) peanuts like Dumbo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
On Sunday, Gurley can shut down all the noise. If he can be healthy enough to have another performance as he did against the stout Cowboys rushing defense then he can reclaim the narrative that he is one of the most dynamic players in the league. His health/performance issues will be a footnote in what could be a championship season and even if the Rams come up short, a dominant performance will give him the same air as Terrell Owens got in the Eagles Super Bowl 39 loss to the Pats. Fortunately for Gurley, he has a few things going for him on Sunday.
The Pats have a solid defense especially with the way Kyle Van Noy and Tre Flowers have been playing. However, they are not the fastest and because of their slow linebackers, Gurley can succeed on the outside. Part of what killed the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game is that they didn’t realize they could gut the Pats with screens and swing passes until it was too late. The Rams won’t have that issue. If Anderson can pound the ball and allow Gurley to take minimal amounts of hits he can become the Todd Gurley who ran all over Dallas.
The bye week did wonders during the playoffs and it should serve him well again. Gurley can be just healthy enough to make it through the Super Bowl and if that’s the case the Pats could be in for a long day. The Rams’ offense needs Gurley to truly thrive. Yes, they survived without him against the Saints but a lot had to go right in order for that to happen. Gurley doesn’t even have to be used as much as he was during the first half of the season. They can deploy him like the Pats deploy James White. If Gurley can establish that he’s an offensive threat then the Pats have to account for him at all times.
Todd Gurley’s stock took a hit during the NFC Championship but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he flipped the script. Depending on where you gamble, Gurley is +1000 to win Super Bowl MVP and a running back hasn’t won that award since Terrell Davis in Super Bowl XXXII. If he can do THAT then there is no doubt Gurley is still one of the best offensive players in the league. Sunday is his chance to cement his legacy, hopefully, his knees are up to the challenge.